Lawyer Sues Beijing TV for Making Fun of Henan Province

Henan native says provincial prejudice is no laughing matter.

Photo courtesy of CCTV/Sixth Tone

More than any other province, Henan in central China is the butt of everyone’s jokes. Others around the country look down on Henan as the home of liars, lunatics, and thieves who will even steal the covers off manholes. Now, one Henanese lawyer has had enough.

Lawyer Zhang Huashan has filed a lawsuit against the TV station, actors, and scriptwriter responsible for a sketch in which a criminal sports a Henanese accent, local newspaper Chinese Business View reported Wednesday.

The sketch, titled “A Cash Withdrawal,” was broadcast during Beijing TV’s Spring Festival gala program on Jan. 28, the first day of the lunar year. It depicts an old woman receiving a phone call from someone who tells her she needs to transfer her money to another bank account — a common telephone scam technique in China. What annoyed Zhang is that the caller spoke with an obvious Henanese accent.

Henan native Zhang, 39, works at a law firm in neighboring Shaanxi province. After watching the sketch, he drafted a lawsuit against the TV station and those involved in the performance, requesting an open apology to the Henanese people, and compensation of 1 yuan ($0.14) for each of the province’s inhabitants — more than 100 million people.

In Zhang’s view, the sketch implied that natives of Henan — China’s most populous province — are often swindlers, and he explained that this characterization could strengthen public prejudice against them.

“As a Henan native, I have often faced situations where my identity is scoffed at by others, some of which constitute blatant discrimination,” said Zhang in the Wednesday news report. “I hope that because of the lawsuit, people will pay more attention to intentional and inadvertent discrimination.”

The team behind the gala show could not immediately be reached for comment by Sixth Tone, but the writer of the sketch posted an apology on his Weibo microblog. Scriptwriter Wei Xin, who hails from Shandong province — which borders Henan — apologized to the public for the misunderstanding. “I dubbed the sketch with my hometown dialect,” he wrote. “It sounds similar to a Henanese accent.”

China abounds with stereotypes about people from every area, whether it’s the image of folks from northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region as permanently astride a donkey, or of northeastern men as gruff, burly blokes. Meanwhile, Guangdong province natives in China’s south are presumed to eat every creature under the sun or sea.

But Henan still struggles to shake off its reputation as the nation’s number-one laughingstock. To rehabilitate its poor reputation, the province even launched a 60-second promotional video that it broadcast in New York’s Times Square, introducing the province’s rich history and majestic landscape.

Several other Henanese people complained online about the Beijing TV sketch. “Why is the swindler speaking our Henanese dialect? I feel so wronged!” wrote one Weibo user.

But others from the province didn’t see what the big deal was. “They’re making a fuss,” Zhang Bo, who hails from Henan’s Xinyang City, told Sixth Tone. “It met the needs of the performance. If people take things too seriously, performers won’t be able to use any accent.”

— This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.